The streets I roamed in the days after I was fired from my job for speaking up about harassment. The lake where I take my daily walk. The city I was living in when my mother died. The place where I became myself. My ancestral homeland.
These locations were on the receiving end of an important message during yesterday's Open Book Community session: Writing A Love Letter to a Place. This pop-up experience was co-hosted with Open Book Community member, Charlotte Peck, inspired by her beautiful practice of writing love letters to a place holding lots of meaning and conflicting emotions for her: Oaxaca, Mexico.
The practice of writing a love letter to a place is seemingly simple: conduct a “dialogue” with a place that holds some sort of meaning for you. As Anna Quindlen says in her recent ode to the practice of writing, Write For Your Life, "the differences between writing for yourself in a journal or simply in observations or reminiscences, and writing a letter are obvious…A journal is a monologue; a letter is a conversation.”
I encourage you to think about writing a letter to a place of your own. Charlotte and I created these guiding questions to support you on the process and I’ve included some extension activities at the end of this post.
A letter is a conversation. This is the premise I had in mind when writing my own very first letter to a place: A Lakehouse in Highland Lakes, New Jersey...
It’s been four months since I’ve seen you last. In some ways it feels so much longer and in other ways it feels like just yesterday.
I had been dreaming of you, or something like you… without even really knowing you…for many years. Of course, with every imagining there is room for some disappointment once the fantasy is realized.
But, there’s also room for some surprises.
Many of my favorite memories are of the times I spent dancing with you. Carefully pulling the Carole King record out of its sleeve, dropping it on the player. One self-assured “click” and the jarring sound of brief static before the melody.
The saying is “dance like no one is watching” but - if I’m being honest - I usually dance like there’s tons of people drinking me in.
Bare feet on the brand new hardwood. Swaying back and forth, chopping tomatoes and thinking this is just like I imagined.
Laptop on the kitchen table. Typing away, lemonade in hand. Eyes on the lake. It felt like a dream.
Pages of a book. Turning. Turning. Turning.
A loungy day on the dock. The mountains. Fresh basil on the windowsill. The drive-in. Teaching myself how to paddleboard. Jumping into filmy water. Portobello mushrooms on the grill. Dragonflies zipping. The towels and bedsheets and cups and shelves of strangers.
The long, winding drive through the woods.
Massive ice cream sundaes in my underwear.
It’s been years since I’ve taken a nap, but you always made me feel safe enough just to lay down and close my eyes, drifting off like the unpunctuated poem that I‘ve always been.
Waking up to that view. That fucking view.
I mean, damn. You always looked so good.
And thinking: this is even better than I imagined.
Writing. Writing. Writing. Madly. And like I’ll never write again.
The moon. Giving me energy and scaring me just a bit.
A heat wave. Fans blasting. Cold, wet washcloths draped on naked legs.
A tear-stained journal to match the falling rain.
And thinking - hold up - this is not how it’s supposed to be.
Then, even later still, remembering I am still me. No matter where I am. Even seemingly-perfect you couldn’t make me someone else.
I remember on one of the last days I was with you that I found a trail I hadn’t seen in the weeks before. It led me across the dam and to the other side of the lake. I was able to look at you from a whole different angle. A completely new perspective. You still seemed great. The whole scene was breathtaking, to be sure. But, the distance between us made me feel strange. I looked at you differently somehow. Not as something I was a part of but something else.
You brought out so much in me and in doing so reminded me that it was actually all there in the first place. My creativity, my self-love, my joy, my energy.
It didn’t expand or become within your four walls. It all simply had a chance to just emerge.
In some ways.
Being with you.
I was kind of found again.
Interested in creating your own Love Letter to a Place? Feel free to take a peek at our workbook.
Once you write your own letter, you may be surprised at what comes up for you. Take some time to reflect and consider these “extension” activities.
Share this exercise with any partners, family or friends OR a modified version with any kiddos in your life — see how your letters compare.
Plan to do this for the next time you travel. Knowing you will be writing this letter may even change how you experience or capture your time away.
Try the exercise again with a new lens. If you picked a city you visited, try an everyday place you visit often. If you picked a routine location, consider somewhere you spent time in long ago. How does this process change how you look at the seemingly mundane? How does it affect the memories you have?